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Favorite Romance Novels of 2018

I read some truly amazing romances this past year. This was the list I had the hardest time narrowing down and as such, it's longer than the other 2018 book lists. But I'm not sorry about it! Reading romance has saved my life in many ways, particularly during some very stressful seasons. How wonderful to read about interesting characters and know things will work out for them by the time the story ends. It's enough to make you believe things will work out for you too.

I wasn't as diligent about tracking content warnings as I'm trying to be now so I've included the ones I do have. If you're concerned about specific content, you're welcome to comment or email with a question and I'll do my best to answer.

There we have it: 24 books, 4 categories, all amazing.

Disclosure: Affiliate links included in this post. 


Contemporary Romance

A Girl Like HerA Girl Like Her - Talia Hibbert

This book blew me away and then some. First, I loved that Ruth is autistic and that this is #ownvoices. She was a fascinating character and I loved the insights into how her mind worked. I also loved her passion for comics and all of her nerdy characteristics. She was so fierce and it was pure joy to watch her slowly lower her guard around Evan and start to heal from her past. Second, Evan is a magical unicorn of a man and I wish I could clone him. He's the kind of man who makes meals for his neighbor and his friend and cannot help but be a nurturing caregiver. This can get him into trouble because he's not as good at taking care of himself. But that's where Ruth came in because she was able to look out for him too. The plot slowly unraveled its revelations about the characters and it was so perfectly timed. The character growth was tremendous as well. I loved how Evan was able to persistently and consistently be there for Ruth, respecting her boundaries but also biding his time to win her trust. Watching Ruth fall for him was everything. 

CW: past partner violence

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble



Strawberry SummerStrawberry Summer - Melissa Brayden

Brayden anchored this small town romance by having the two ex-lovers run into each other after years apart and then diving back into their shared history, starting with the day they met in high school. It has the perfect amount of nostalgia, all while leading up to what went wrong and bringing us back to the present again.  Maggie and Courtney were such interesting characters. I loved seeing what they brought out in each other, how their romance could be as sweet and tender as it was passionate. They were well on their way to happily ever after when life, of course, interfered. I did not expect to have such an emotional reading experience but that plot twist sure made me cry. The fallout made sense, even in all of the heartbreak. But the thing of it is, despite the logistical issues, despite the heartache of it all, despite the reasons both women have to be wary of each other, they just make sense together. I loved watching them take another chance on their relationship. Even though I had an emotional experience, this story really made me happy. There are so many funny moments and I loved Maggie's wry perspective through it all. It's the kind of book where you close the last page with a smile on your face.

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice



ThirstyThirsty - Mia Hopkins

This was my first time reading Mia Hopkins but I shall forever be a devoted reader of her work from here on out. Sal was such a captivating character and having only his POV as the narrator just plain worked. We meet him shortly after he was released from prison and watching him navigate his new life, which includes avoiding his old gang, working two part-time jobs, and trying to figure out where he belongs in the neighborhood, was gripping. I could see how hard Sal was working and how the odds were stacked against him, particularly as a Person of Color- the whole system is stacked against ex-cons but especially so for PoC. When Vanessa, his long-time crush, gives him a chance, I so badly wanted them to make it work. Vanessa was strong and determined and a great balance for Sal. She doesn't trust him at first and it was wonderful to see her wariness melt away over time. They were so good together but the pressures working against Sal were always lurking in the background and I had no idea what decisions he would make. In the author's note, she mentions she volunteers with former gang members and this experience is clear. The story veers away from stereotypes and I was really impressed with the Latinx representation (although, to be clear, I'm saying this as a white woman. I will defer to Latinx reviewers in this regard.)

I loved how the neighborhood was portrayed. There's such a strong sense of place and community and belonging. Vanessa and Sal stay where they grew up because this is where their friends and family are and it's a vibrant place, even if it has problems. I also appreciated the juxtaposition between Sal's friends, those he had before prison and after, and those who would use him or bring him down. Sal has hard choices to make but he also has a lot of love and support in his life beyond Vanessa and this was so moving to see. The character growth was tremendous and you'd better believe the ending made me tear up. 

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble



RivenRiven - Roan Parrish

Roan Parrish is a genius. I'm hoarding her books at this point because I don't want to run out. She creates such vivid worlds and characters. I love how affectionate her characters are with one another. They’re always hugging and clasping shoulders and such. It makes you feel even more connected to them and I really wanted to hug Caleb and Theo myself. I adored those two and was fully caught up in the angst of whether and how they could make things work. Theo is in a spotlight he never asked for, while Caleb essentially ran away from that life in order to maintain his sobriety. They both have a lot to learn from one another and the way they reach toward their dreams was so inspiring. Perfect amount of angst, capped off with a happy ending. More please. 

CW: addiction, recovery, anxiety

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble




Big Bad CowboyBig Bad Cowboy - Carly Bloom

This was a supremely delicious ride with a deft sense of humor that manages to subvert the cowboy trope. Travis and Maggie meet at a Halloween party (dressed as Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf!) and don't realize they're business rivals until after sexy shenanigans have ensued. To take things up a notch: Travis figures out Maggie was his Little Red Riding Hood but doesn’t tell her he was the Big Bad Wolf. Thanks to Maggie’s best friend, they have each other’s phone number and so Little Red and her Wolf text (or sext, as it were) on the side while Travis and Maggie are getting to know each other better each day. I don’t always like situations like this. You know it’s going to end badly and it’s just a matter of when but Bloom handled this beautifully. There’s such great character growth across the story. Travis has to stop ignoring his problems. I loved watching him take care of his nephew and the way he figured out what kind of future he wanted to have. As a female landscape architect, Maggie constantly has to prove herself in a male-dominated field and I loved how the story explored this dynamic. She’s always been seen as “one of the guys” and I loved watching her bloom under Travis’s attention. This was an absolute delight from start to finish!

Read my full review.

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice



A Princess In TheoryReluctant Royals series - Alyssa Cole

A Princess In Theory: How is Alyssa Cole always so amazing at building her stories?! This was so wonderful! Every bit of it. Ledi was freaking amazing. She's an epidemiology grad student doing her best to make ends meet when she starts receiving these spam emails claiming she's betrothed to the prince of Thesolo, an African nation. She had my heart from the start. I got why she was so guarded/closed off and loved watching her slowly open up and let others in. Prince Thabiso was a spoiled brat but I loved watching him wake up to what a tool he could be. His heart was mostly in the right place so I could hang with him through the rest. And I absolutely loved the way he took care of Ledi. Cue all the swooning! The character growth was great, especially how Thabiso went from spoiled prince to a nurturing, more self-aware soul. All the nerdery was fantastic too! This had humor and heart and I loved every second of it. Plus, the side characters added so much depth to the story.

Ledi's best friend Portia gets her own story in A Duke By Default (Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice) and it's just as good. It hit me right in the feels. I lost track of how many times I teared up, not only for the portions that hit close to home but because of how much I adored the characters. You will marvel over Portia's redemption arc as she strives to turn over a new leaf. (Portia believing she’s not the kind of person people keep around and that she’s a disappointment to everyone = 😭.) Tavish was a perfect Scottish grump and I loved watching him become captivated by Portia.

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice



Rising StarRising Star - Susannah Nix

This is Susannah Nix's best work yet. Rising Star centers around Alice the extra/PhD student and Griffin the actor. It’s a begrudging friends-to-lovers romance, in that it takes Alice a little while to warm up to Griffin. They barely know each other when Griffin asks Alice to dogsit for him while he’s on location in Atlanta and because she has to get out of her current apartment, they end up living together for a few weeks. Alice and Griffin’s relationship flowed so naturally from work acquaintances to more, even as they struggled to keep their feelings private. Griffin, because Alice is his employee and he doesn’t want her to think he’s taking advantage of her. Alice, because she’s leery of men’s intentions at first and then she has no idea where she stands with him. There was so much angsty goodness as they moved closer to one another until finally fireworks exploded. Additionally, the story explores sexual harassment and power dynamics in powerful ways. I really appreciated how Nix handled the realities of sexual harassment in academia and gave Alice agency in the situation.

Read my full review.

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice


Honorable Mentions: Idlewild by Jude Sierra (Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice), Second Chance by Jay Northcote (Amazon | Barnes & Noble The Ripped Bodice), The Ones Who Got Away by Roni Loren (Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice)



Historical Romance

Sweet DisorderSweet Disorder - Rose Lerner

So witty and fresh! I adored Nick and Phoebe and how politics is woven in through the town election, in which the politicos want Phoebe to remarry so her husband can vote and support their cause. I love that Phoebe is not your typical HR heroine and the way the story explores poverty and class and especially how we see what politicians espouse vs. how their policies actually impact people. As an injured war hero, Nick was such a fascinating character and I enjoyed seeing him learn to own his opinions and voice his desires and needs. Nick and Phoebe together were pure magic and I was rooting for them to figure out a path forward the whole time.

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice 





The Dragon And The PearlThe Dragon And The Pearl (Tang Dynasty #2) - Jeannie Lin

This was my first time reading Jeannie Lin and I cannot handle how good it is. I need more historical romance like this! Her writing is so atmospheric and her characters really come alive. This is set in China in 759 AD during the Tang Dynasty and I learned so much about palace life and the complicated politics of that time. There were such high stakes between Ling Suyin and Li Tao and I didn't know how they would overcome them. My heart really went out to Ling Suyin and how she's been used as a pawn by everyone in her life. She was so close to being able to live out the rest of her life on her own terms, only to be taken by Li Tao. And yes, this may have saved her life but she's still beholden to someone she doesn't believe she can trust. Li Tao carries a heavy burden himself and the political machinations were fascinating, albeit worrisome. I loved watching these two face off against one another and then giving into their attraction. The way their relationship evolved was fantastic and I'm really looking forward to catching up on the first book and then reading the rest of this series.

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble




The Doctor's DiscretionThe Doctor's Discretion - EE Ottoman

Doctors William Blackwood and Augustus Hill could not be more of opposites. William is a quiet Black man who would prefer to organize and take on the more administrative details of doctoring, whereas Augustus is a white trans ex-Navy surgeon. When their professional interests draw them together, it's clear they're both drawn to each other personally as well. Add in concern for a trans patient Moss who's involuntarily committed at the hospital and these two decide they must break Moss out and help him find safety, while risking their own safety in the process. The characters are richly drawn and the setting is vivid. The story wades into big issues—transphobia, homophobia, racism—and handles them with deft nuance. I loved whenever they discussed medical research. Blood transfusions for William, hand washing for Augustus. They didn’t know how cutting edge they were! And of course I loved watching them fall for another and would happily read more books about their adventures.

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble




The Luckiest Lady In LondonThe Luckiest Lady In London (The London Trilogy #1) - Sherry Thomas

So angsty, so wonderful. I'm a complete Sherry Thomas convert! I loved every part of how she built this story and let her characters serve as foils for one another and then something more.

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice 








An Unseen AttractionAn Unseen Attraction (Sins Of The Cities #1) - KJ Charles

This was just the loveliest! Clem manages the lodging house that Rowley, a new tenant, stays in. Clem is biracial, white titled father and Indian mother, and neurodiverse. He's sweet and shy but also naive and gullible. Rowley runs the taxidermy shop next door, a place I might avoid in real life but the details fascinated me and made me wonder how those methods compare to today. Rowley is also quiet and unassuming. In so many ways, these two were a good pair. Throw in a murder mystery and the right amount of intrigue and I was hooked! The secondary characters were just as well developed and I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the series in order to learn their stories.

CW: Murder, violence, references to past childhood abuse, homophobia, ableism, references to sexual assault, arson

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble




Erotic Romance

SinnerSinner (Priest #2) - Sierra Simone

Sierra Simone is the erotic theologian I never knew I always needed. She outdid herself with this story and in crafting Sean Bell’s character. He’s brash and funny and confident. Charming as hell, a total player, hot and dirty. And yet he takes such good care of the ones he loves. He’s exactly the level of complicated guy I go for. Zenny may want to become a nun but she’s no slouch in comparison to Sean. Her compassion and steadfast faith, her determination and intelligence all serve as the perfect foil for Sean. He’s attracted to her immediately but it’s the level of awe she inspires in him that had me unable to read fast enough.

Even though I trust Sierra to give me the happily ever after, I really didn’t know how she was going to pull it off. The premise is delicious but it’s the execution that catapulted this to my all-time favorite list. It’s as steamy and filthy as you’d expect it to be but Sierra layered in so many other factors that grounded the story into something so much more. Not only is Sean exploring faith as a lapsed Catholic, the Bell men face losing their matriarch who is dying of cancer. Sean fully rejects her decline, believing he can somehow be or do enough to save her. It’s a profound meditation on death and grief that rang so true to life. I really appreciated the way palliative care and hospice were factored into Mrs. Bell’s dying process and especially how the Living Will was addressed. My heart went out to Sean, Tyler, and the rest of the family as they figured out how to say goodbye and then what life would look like without her.

Lastly, we must discuss the way Sierra skillfully depicts faith and sexuality. I’m not Catholic but my extended family is and I’m sure they would disagree with the way the Church is presented here. On the other hand, I loved the way Zenny’s prioress talked about God and the advice she gave to her. I told a friend that if I'd grown up with the theology expressed in Sinner, I'd probably still go to church. The way it ended made me want to believe again. I still don't but it healed something in me at the same time. Sierra's books can do no wrong in my eyes.

CW: death of a loved one by cancer, grief, racism (which is challenged), reference to past sexual abuse by a priest, reference to past suicide

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice



SearedSeared (Master Chefs #1) - Suleikha Snyder

This is more of a novella than a novel and when it comes to novellas, Suleikha Snyder is an absolute master of the form. Seared was super steamy and the plot well paced. She manages to convey so much with so little, a perfect economy of words. Naya and Lachlan crackled with chemistry and heat. While this is technically a step-sibling romance, their parents didn't marry until Naya was 16 and Lachlan 20 and they subsequently divorced. Naya and Lachlan haven't even seen each other in 10 years when this story begins and it's off to the races the moment Naya sets foot in his restaurant. I could not get enough of it! It's hot, sexy, and yet still tender as they explore their relationship against the things trying to keep them apart.

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

I would be remiss if I didn't mention Snyder's contribution to the Rogue Hearts anthology (Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice). In Her Service was absolute perfection. It actually gave me hope for our country and not a week has gone by where I haven't thought about her Vice President heroine and Secret Service agent hero. Could In Her Service be prophetic? Fingers crossed.



Hold Me DownHold Me Down (Carolina Girls #1) - Sara Taylor Woods

This book was a revelation. I’m still mulling it over months later. Not only was the prose gorgeous, the character growth was impeccable. Sean and Talia were such distinct characters, so richly drawn that I felt as if I really knew them. I loved that Talia was Jewish and how her faith played such a big role in her life and it informed her figuring out her sexuality/kink. The intersection of faith and sexuality is a fascinating one and I get so much more out of the way erotic romance explores it compared to the chaste inspirational romance I read growing up. It feels so much more vibrant and alive. Real.

Talia struggles with who she is and what she wants in a romantic relationship. Much of the book is her sorting that out, through her BDSM relationship with Sean and through her therapy session. Her therapist is awful and those sessions could be hard to read about. Her counselor was projecting onto Talia and had no understanding of how consensual a BDSM relationship is. The arc of this part of the story is strong but I so badly wanted to counter the messages Talia received because that’s not what a healthy therapeutic relationship looks like.

Then there’s Sean, that beautiful nerdy strong man. I loved everything about him, from his academic focus to the way he took care of Talia. I loved seeing them together, for not only the steamy scenes, which were incredibly hot, but how they were in those day to day moments, like when he buys her cupcakes or checks in on her. They are a good balance for one another and while there’s much they have to figure out, their happily ever after was so very satisfying. I adored this one from start to finish and can’t wait to read more from Sara Taylor Woods.

CW: cutting, depression, anxiety, references to racism, references to anti-Semitism, concerns of partner violence

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble



Have MercyHave Mercy - Shelley Ann Clark

This is one of those books that just crawls into your heart and soul! I wish I could experience one of Emme's shows in person because it sounded like it was totally up my alley. I loved the focus on music and band life and how complicated those dynamics can be, as well as how our histories together can change us and not always in the best of ways. Emme's conflict felt so real and my heart went out to her. At the same time, I loved watching Emme and Tom explore their kink and how confident she became as she embraced being a Domme. It was a neat bit of role reversal for the sub to be more experienced than the Domme. This was a slow burn and it was so worth it. Tom takes care of everyone else, often in co-dependent ways, and it was so good to see Emme take care of him. I just plain loved these two together. And I want to read more from Shelley Ann Clark! What a gem of a story.

CW: addiction, misogyny, industry sexism

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble



Three-Way SplitThree-Way Split - Elia Winters

This is the first book I've read (as far as I can remember) that really explores a polyamorous relationship and I was here for it. Hannah, Mitchell, and Ben were such wonderful characters, each fully embodied with their own desires and insecurities. Mitchell and Ben have been friends and roommates and sometimes lovers for a long time but neither has been honest with himself or each other about their feelings. Hannah's been attracted to Mitchell for a long time but doesn't know him well and is acquaintances with Ben. She doesn't think either man is interested in her, while they both definitely are. However, Mitchell is too shy to act and it takes Ben making a move for Mitchell to realize what he wants. And from there, they eventually realize they want to explore something together. This was super sexy and hot to read but there was also a lot of emotional depth. Hannah is fiercely independent and hates asking for or even accepting help, even when she should. This could be frustrating to read about, especially because accepting help would mean her business (sex toy shop!) could stay open. Ben has a photographic memory (might actually be eidetic memory) and keeps his feelings to himself because he doesn't want to be hurt. It was really moving to watch him slowly open up and realize he could have the relationship that he wants. Mitchell has a learning disorder: dyscalculia, where he mixes up numbers. It was really interesting to have a learning disability represented in a story and I'd be curious to hear how the representation holds up from someone who also has dyscalculia. He's such a talented chef and honestly a dream man but he doesn't recognize what everyone else sees in him. I loved watching him flourish! These three really had to learn how to communicate and face their fears and I loved reading about the ups and downs as they figured things out. Such a fun read!

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice




Paranormal/Science Fiction/Fantasy

Wanted & WiredWanted & Wired (Wanted & Wired #1) - Vivien Jackson

Wanted & Wired was a revelation! It's an incredible sci-fi romance. SO MUCH YEARNING but also funny and clever. Heron is easily one of the sexiest heroes who is also part robot. (That might be too simplistic of an explanation but he's human who also had technology implanted, which ultimately saved his life.) His fingers have sense tips, which give him data but also adjust to give Mari the ultimate pleasure. Those scenes were sexy as hell! The characters' voices were so distinct, particularly Mari's voice. I loved what a badass she was but also how she was loyal and fiercely protected those she loves. There was a game-changing twist I never saw coming, which upended my whole reading experience in the best way. 

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice






A Conspiracy Of WhispersWhisper duology - Ada Harper

The Whispers duology is an incredibly refreshing and well-executed sci-fi series and you will not regret reading it. The premise for Conspiracy reeled me in and I’m not someone who read much sci-fi to begin with, at least not prior to last year. Olivia had so much agency in Conspiracy and I could not get enough of her relationship with Galen, combative one moment and swoon-worthy yearning the next. They turned me into a puddle of mush more than a few times. Fascinating premise, spectacular writing, phenomenal character growth. And the second book is just as good! I can't wait to see what Harper does next.

Read my full review of book 2 A Treason Of Truths.

Buy the book: AmazonBarnes & Noble





The Last WolfThe Last Wolf (The Legend Of All Wolves #1) - Maria Vale

This is the most fascinating shifter book I’ve ever read. The world-building is unparalleled! Instead of humans turning into wolves, we have wolves turning into humans and this nuance changes everything. Silver and Ti have so much to lose and they really are each other's only hope for survival. Nothing about this story was what I guessed or expected. I'm still reeling from some of the twists and turns. Maria Vale really and truly outdid herself.

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice







Slave To SensationSlave To Sensation (Psy-Changeling #1) - Nalini Singh

The world-building is absolutely fascinating and I wholeheartedly adored these characters. I'm mad I haven't started this series sooner! Angela Dawe is a fantastic narrator too if you want to listen on audio.

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice








AshwinAshwin - Kit Rocha

Kit Rocha never disappoints! Ashwin was the strong protective hero of my dreams. His backstory as an emotionless genetically modified soldier was fascinating, especially because he has such a great connection with Kora, even if he didn't fully understand it. Kora is a healer and an emotional one at that. I really loved the juxtaposition of their personalities and what they needed to overcome. I'm so intrigued by how this sets things up for the series and I can't believe I haven't had a chance to read the next two books yet.

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice





Favorite Romance Novels Of 2018 (1)

Favorite Nonfiction of 2018

Favorite Nonfiction of 2018

My nonfiction reading took a sharp nosedive in 2018, accounting for less than 1% of what I read—and that includes cookbooks and poetry collections. While I’ve always read much more fiction than nonfiction, I was shocked by the numbers. I have some theories about why this happened but most of it boils down to wanting to escape into stories because of what was happening in the news or my life. Why I didn't choose to escape more into memoir, which is my favorite nonfiction genre, I don't know but I'm hoping to get back on track this year.

Disclosure: Affiliate links included in this post. 



BecomingBecoming - Michelle Obama

What can I possibly say about this marvelous memoir that hasn’t already been said? Michelle Obama’s Becoming was even better than I hoped it would be. Her authenticity and compassion were evident on every page, whether she was sharing het story or calling on us to do better. This was an engaging, moving read. I cried when she shared about her dad’s decline and eventual death and later in the book when she met with kids in Englewood. I was inspired by her determination, spirit, and grit, no matter what she and her family faced. And I was moved to reflect on the ways I have become and am becoming. Gracious, I have missed her so much and there was a comfort in hearing her voice and remembering what she and President Obama accomplished. It’s well worth reading.

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble





No One Tells You ThisNo One Tells You This - Glynnis Macnicol 

Out of all the incredible nonfiction I read in 2018, this memoir about a woman creating her own blueprint for the single life was the book I *needed* to read. It was so good for my soul. I viscerally related to Glynnis MacNicol’s experiences, particularly the way she embraced her singleness, and felt so understood. It’s a rich memoir, whether she’s asking herself what 40 means to her and whether she wants to have kids as a single woman or she’s grappling with the decline and eventual death of her mother or she’s reveling in the realization she has a life people envy her for. Best of all, it’s a memoir exploring singleness that does not end with the author in a relationship. 

Read my full review.

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble




I'm Still HereI'm Still Here: Black Dignity In A World Made For Whiteness - Austin Channing Brown

If you're at all familiar with Austin Channing Brown, you know she is a gifted communicator as both a writer and speaker. I had high hopes for her first book and I was hooked from the first page. By the time I finished reading, I was even more in awe of Austin. I'm Still Here is truly phenomenal. Each chapter builds upon the one before it in a way that is masterful. This mastery becomes especially clear in the final two chapters. Then I read the final paragraph and Austin brought it all home and my only thought was, "holy shit." It was that powerful. I read it again and then again and let her words sink in. The whole book builds toward that moment and it is absolutely incredible getting there. 

Read my full review.

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble




Tomorrow Will Be Different- Love  Loss  and the Fight for Trans Equality by Sarah McBride {review}Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, and the Fight For Trans Equality - Sarah McBride

Sarah McBride's memoir is both accessible and powerful. She shares her own story but she is ever pointing out her privilege and centering the experiences of the transgender community. She lets us in to her life, while also providing a bird's eye view of the larger issues. The result is truly masterful. If you've been wanting to better understand and support the transgender community, this book is a wonderful place to start.

Read my full review.

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble





When They Call You A TerroristWhen They Call You A Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir - Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele

A heartbreaking and moving read, Patrisse Khan-Cullors' account shows how the events of her life, as well as her family's experiences, put her on the trajectory to become an activist. Cullors depicts one marginalizing experience after another, all the ways her school, her city, and society at large told her her life did not matter, her brother Monte's life did not matter, her father's life did not matter, her husband's life did not matter, and so on. It was maddening to see all they endured but sadly it was not surprising. This is the lived reality for people of color and this is why the Black Lives Matter movement is so important. It could not have been easy for Cullors and her coauthor to write this book but I'm so glad they did. It's an essential, beautifully written memoir. I appreciated how intentional she was in naming people, from activists to her loved ones to those who were killed. I hope it serves as reminder to center the voices of the BLM founders and women of color in general who are all too easily left out of the narrative.

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble



Tell Me MoreTell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I'm Learning to Say - Kelly Corrigan

Kelly Corrigan's writing never ceases to amaze me. Tell Me More is structured differently from her previous memoirs but we still get her excellent storytelling. There were a few chapters where I wasn't quite sure where her stories were going or how they connected to the chapter's phrase. But she always, always brought it home. True to form, I laughed out loud and I teared up. Her writing can be so moving and especially when paired with the lessons she's learned. Tell Me More gives us a chance to consider what things we need to say to the people around us. 

Read my full review.

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble





So You Want To Talk About RaceSo You Want To Talk About Race - Ijeoma Oluo

This is such a solid book. Oluo invites us white people into a conversation and really it's our chance to listen and learn. She defines racism and privilege and then shows the big picture of systemic racism and the ways white people continue to benefit from an unjust system. It's laid out clearly and succinctly and then she lays the case for why we must not only listen and hear but take action. Until we do, white supremacy will continue to flourish. The title may be about conversation but the book is ultimately about why we can't stay there.  "Talk. Please talk and talk and talk some more. But also act. Act now, because people are dying now in this unjust system. How many lives have been ground up by racial prejudice and hate? How many opportunities have we already lost?...We have to learn and fight at the same time. Because people have been waiting far too long for their chance to live as equals in this society."

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble




H Is For HawkH Is For Hawk - Helen Macdonald

I'm not sure how Macdonald first thought to write a memoir about goshawks and grief but the result is fascinating, lovely, and insightful. Her connections took my breath away at times. I also enjoyed how she incorporated the work and life of TH White, particularly his book on goshawks, into her account.

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble







The Scarlett LettersThe Scarlett Letters: My Secret Year Of Men In An LA Dungeon - Jenny Nordbak

After listening to Jenny Nordbak's marvelous podcast The Wicked Wallflowers Club (co-hosted with Sarah Hawley), I decided to give her memoir a try and I'm so glad I did. Nordbak worked in construction by day and as a dominatrix by night. She has fascinating stories from both worlds but what I found most interesting was the ways she grew in confidence and self-understanding as the book progressed, particularly with her relationships. It's really about her journey of self-discovery and I really enjoyed seeing how this played out. There were a number of stories (the candle wax scene!) that made me laugh out loud, making for quite the entertaining read.

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble





The Sun Does ShineThe Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life And Freedom On Death Row - Anthony Ray Hinton

The Sun Does Shine is an important complement to Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy and Michele Alexander's The New Jim Crow. Hinton's firsthand account of wrongful imprisonment which landed him on Death Row in spite of his innocence is an important read for us all. Reading Hinton's experience gave me a much better understanding of what Death Row prisoners face and the reality was horrifying. Something must change.

Read my full review.

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Divine IntuitionDivine Intuition: Your Inner Guide To Purpose, Peace, and Prosperity - Lynn Robinson

Sometimes we read books at the precisely right time. I bought this in 2015 after hearing the author's episode on The Lively Show but I didn't start reading it until Fall 2017, just a chapter here and there. I’ve always been an intuitive person but the past couple of years have been a hard season and I was hopeful this book would help me find some answers about what’s next. And it did, although not in the way I expected. This book and the practical exercises within reminded me I can still trust my intuition, even when things don’t turn out as planned. If you’re at all interested in how our intuition works, this is so worth reading. I’ll be returning to this book regularly in the years to come.

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble





Favorite Nonfiction Of 2018 | Leigh Kramer

Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal {review}

Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal



My Review - 4 Stars

Unmarriageable is an inventive Pride & Prejudice retelling set in Pakistan. The patriarchal nature of Pakistani culture paired well for modernizing Austen’s story. It’s an update, to be sure, but the Binat girls face many of the same constraints as the Bennets.

My heart really went out to Alys and the way she tried to rise above those constraints, believing she does not need to get married and focusing more on her career. Indeed, the antics her mother and best friend engage in serve to only underscore her point. While society may not know what to do with an unmarried woman, Alys is right that a bad marriage, particularly in a patriarchal society, can be a cage stifling the woman in it. But of course the delight of any P&P retelling is seeing her fall for the exception to her rule. Alys and Darsee are antagonistic and complex and I loved watching them learn more about each other, as they realize how wrong their first impressions were.

There were some fun meta moments, like when Alys declared she’d never want to marry someone like Darcy the way Elizabeth did or Annie saying she never wanted to be sickly and voiceless like Anne de Bourgh. It’s a book-lovers story riddled with literary references to great effect. I particularly enjoyed Darsee and Alys's book discussions and the moment he gave her a copy of his favorite Pakistani novel Sunlight On A Broken Column, which I now want to read. I loved getting to see more of Pakistani culture, especially the food and wedding rituals. Plus, Soniah Kamal’s social commentary on feminism, classism, and colonialism made for a truly engaging read.

If I have one small complaint, it's the amount of fat-shaming throughout the story. Qitty is brow-beaten, especially by Lady and Mrs. Binat, for her weight. Yes, it says something about their characters, and yes, at the end she thankfully gets her due with a body positive image but as a white American woman reading it, I cringed on Qitty's behalf every time. I suspect this may be part of Pakistani culture: just as everyone comments on each other's marital status, they comment on weight and looks as well.

P&P isn’t my favorite of Austen’s work and so whenever Unmarriageable adhered closely to my least favorite parts of the original—every Bennet/Binat gets on my last nerve, and that can include Elizabeth/Alys—I struggled. I've always been more sympathetic to Darcy/Darsee regarding how awful the Bennets can be. However, there’s a reason Austen's work has endured and I’m grateful it’s led to stories like this. I'll be curious to see what Pakistani reviewers make of it.

CW: fat-shaming, slut-shaming, colonialism, classism, characters making references to killing themselves for the sake of drama, character states Alys is lucky he's not the sort of man who would throw acid on her



In this one-of-a-kind retelling of Pride and Prejudice set in modern-day Pakistan, Alys Binat has sworn never to marry—until an encounter with one Mr. Darsee at a wedding makes her reconsider.

A scandal and vicious rumor concerning the Binat family have destroyed their fortune and prospects for desirable marriages, but Alys, the second and most practical of the five Binat daughters, has found happiness teaching English literature to schoolgirls. Knowing that many of her students won’t make it to graduation before dropping out to marry and have children, Alys teaches them about Jane Austen and her other literary heroes and hopes to inspire the girls to dream of more.

When an invitation arrives to the biggest wedding their small town has seen in years, Mrs. Binat, certain that their luck is about to change, excitedly sets to work preparing her daughters to fish for rich, eligible bachelors. On the first night of the festivities, Alys’s lovely older sister, Jena, catches the eye of Fahad “Bungles” Bingla, the wildly successful—and single—entrepreneur. But Bungles’s friend Valentine Darsee is clearly unimpressed by the Binat family. Alys accidentally overhears his unflattering assessment of her and quickly dismisses him and his snobbish ways. As the days of lavish wedding parties unfold, the Binats wait breathlessly to see if Jena will land a proposal—and Alys begins to realize that Darsee’s brusque manner may be hiding a very different man from the one she saw at first glance.

Told with wry wit and colorful prose, Unmarriageable is a charming update on Jane Austen’s beloved novel and an exhilarating exploration of love, marriage, class, and sisterhood.


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Disclosure: I received an advanced copy from Ballantine Books in exchange for an honest review. Affiliate links included in this post.

Becoming by Michelle Obama {review}



My Review - 5 Stars

“There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become.”

What can I possibly say about this marvelous memoir that hasn’t already been said? Michelle Obama’s Becoming was even better than I hoped it would be. Her authenticity and compassion were evident on every page, whether she was sharing her story or calling on us to do better.

This was an engaging, moving read. I cried when she shared about her dad’s decline and eventual death and later in the book when she met with kids in Englewood. I was inspired by her determination, spirit, and grit, no matter what she and her family faced. And I was moved to reflect on the ways I have become and am becoming.

Gracious, I have missed her so much and there was a comfort in hearing her voice and remembering what she and President Obama accomplished. It’s well worth reading.



An intimate, powerful, and inspiring memoir by the former First Lady of the United States.

In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African-American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare. 

In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms. 

Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same.


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Disclosure: Affiliate links included in this post.

Empire Of Sand by Tasha Suri {review}

Empire Of Sand (The Books Of Ambha #1) - Tasha Suri

Empire Of Sand


My Review - 4.5 Stars

The world-building, the dance imagery, the magic of Mughal-inspired fantasy…Empire Of Sand captivated me.

Mehr was a complex character. Privileged because her father is the governor but marginalized because her mother was Amrithi and refused to marry her father, making Mehr and her sister illegitimate and eventually abandoning them. The Amrithi are few in the Empire and outcasts at that. Mehr chafes against her stepmother’s restrictions, along with the expectation she marry.

And yet, marry she must for Mehr has come to the attention of the Emperor’s mystics and The Maha has declared she must marry Amun. Neither she nor Amun can decline and thus their relationship begins on rocky ground.

But just because they have to obey doesn’t mean they obey blindly and Amun offers Mehr a small workaround: they won’t consummate their marriage and therefore she will not be as tightly bound to the Maha’s will. I really appreciated how Suri handled this aspect of the story. By the time Mehr and Amun do have to take the next step, there’s trust between them and the promise of more. And really, it’s Mehr growing in agency and her own power and showing Amun what is possible between them. It was an intriguing development, one that showed the good arising from the bad.

While the story started out a tad on the slow side as we learn the necessary information about the Empire, it soon picked up speed and I was anxious to learn what would come of Mehr, Amun, and the people. The Maha was such an abusive jackhole of a god. Pure evil and immortal does not make for a good combination. I wasn’t sure if he could be beat and the resolution to this arc was mostly satisfying.

What I really loved was the rich symbolism and imagery throughout. The Amrithi have powerful rites where they dance, thus communicating with the daiva. It was truly beautiful to imagine this playing out, especially as Mehr learns more of the rites and the stories behind them. She becomes a force to reckon with and I really admired her determination.

Amun and Mehr’s relationship also gets its due. Amun was so attentive to her needs and romantic, while Mehr gave him the gift of unconditional love. The evolution made complete sense and was that much more powerful to watch.

The next book in the series will follow Mehr’s sister and I’m really curious to see how her story will develop. I like that this is a series of standalone, connected stories so you get the resolution but also get to see more of the world from other points of view. Make sure you read the Author's Note to learn about the inspiration for the series. A wonderful debut!

CW: forced marriage, threatened rape or sexual assault, drugging, violence, abuse of power



A nobleman’s daughter with magic in her blood. An empire built on the dreams of enslaved gods. Empire of Sand is Tasha Suri’s captivating, Mughal India-inspired debut fantasy.

The Amrithi are outcasts; nomads descended of desert spirits, they are coveted and persecuted throughout the Empire for the power in their blood. Mehr is the illegitimate daughter of an imperial governor and an exiled Amrithi mother she can barely remember, but whose face and magic she has inherited.

When Mehr’s power comes to the attention of the Emperor’s most feared mystics, she must use every ounce of will, subtlety, and power she possesses to resist their cruel agenda.

Should she fail, the gods themselves may awaken seeking vengeance…

Empire of Sand is a lush, dazzling fantasy novel perfect for readers of City of Brass and The Wrath & the Dawn.



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Disclosure: I received an advanced copy from Orbit in exchange for an honest review. Affiliate links included in this post.